Steven Patrick Morrissey and John Maher formed The Smiths in 1982. Steven wanted to be known as Morrissey and John as Johnny Marr (to avoid confusion with The Buzzcock's drummer who was his namesake) and so Morrissey and Marr, one of the most famous duos in pop music was born. They were joined by Marr's school-friend Andy Rourke on bass and Mike Joyce on drums; deciding on the name The Smiths, the simplistic brand, a direct reaction to the over use of complicated, arty band names. Morrissey was pushing for ordinary people, ironic that, I think, but anyway, he chose it and it was liked, simple. Things moved swiftly for The Smiths, a few gigs in, they were offered a record deal with Factory Records which they turned down, though Tony Wilson claimed that he never pushed it as he thought that Morrissey might prove difficult to work with…perceptive? A few gigs later, Rough Trade Records signed them and wasted no time in releasing their first single Hand in Glove in May 1983. John Peel loved it, but despite his best efforts at promoting it, it failed to chart, Morrissey et. al were disgusted, not at themselves, they believed the single to be bloody brilliant but at Joe Bloggs and the public for being fools in not seeing the genius after all they believed the sun to shine from their behinds. Meanwhile, the B-side Handsome Devil illustrated that this band was going to do things on their terms, not caring a wit about the rest of the fad.
Morrissey had adored the New York Dolls, macho wasn't going to cut it, the single garnered a cult following, were they really listening? The cads in the hallowed towers chanted paedophilia, oh please, throw enough mud and all, is it? This Charming Man the follow-up single, broke the charts, were The Smiths happy? Were they funk? So different, they were, standing out amongst the big, corporate band names; the banners were unfurled, The Smiths being hailed as the saviours of post-punk. The palm leaves were out in force, the critics gushing madly, oblique comparisons to the impact of Elvis and Wilde were bandied about, the gods descended on Top of the Pops, Morrissey waving gladioli around, my great-aunts thought it a lovely gesture, oh sweet Jacob, I thought. We waited with bated breath, they gave us What Difference Does it Make?, telling us they were sick and tired, so were we, The Smiths were telling us as it was but who was ruling who? February 1984 saw the release of their debut album, The Smiths, it reached No. 2 in the UK album charts, turns out that there were quite a few in the underground, moonlighting as over grounders. Oh it was defiant! Heckles of paedophilia were hurled at the Blake like Hand that Rocks the Cradle and Reel Around the Fountain, was anybody really listening? They were to the definitely disturbing Suffer Little Children giving voice from the grave to the victims of the horrific Moors murders, Manchester was trying to forgot, Morrissey hadn't, ergo nobody else was going to either, then again they could always simply tune out but they didn't.
It was all too compelling for that, Marr's masterful guitar riffs matched with Morrissey's unique poetic-pop style, proving all too alluring. Through the rest of 1984, they released a series of singles that were not contained on the album, they were to be some of their most enduring songs. Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now gave them their first UK Top Ten and found Caligula rubbing shoulders with Wham! and Frankie Goes to Hollywood; William, It Was Really Nothing stirred the pot once again, rumours abounding that the William of the title was Billy Mackenzie of The Associates, what a single it was, also containing Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want and the retro era-defining How Soon Is Now? with THAT guitar riff oscillating from every kitchen speaker, distracting the cooking of suppers across the nation. All of these singles, B-sides and different versions of songs were gathered on the end of year compilation album Hatful of Hollow (1984). Frantically working and pumping out songs, their second album Meat Is Murder was released in early 1985, claiming the top spot in the charts, The Smiths were toppers, how do you like that Morrissey? It's a great album, experimental and eclectic, and one for the detractors who pigeon-hole The Smiths as bed-sit, dwelling, queer whingers in dodgy crombies bearing bouquets of puff. It spawned no popular single, thus preventing dilution of the work by hearing it on the closing credits of Match of the Day or in the Queen Vic omnibus killing our autumnal afternoons and adding to our daily torture - it was for us the fans, the cult, the underground, the bed-sit whingers, the possessed, the possessors.
The Smiths were taking over the youth, the synth brigade with all their flash clothes, flash videos, flash, flash, flash, could all just flash off, we had one, that's all we needed, just one to be candid. And Morrissey was fanning it, he was what we always wanted our pop stars to be, not a phoney, he was doing what we would do if we found ourselves in such an exalted position. But would we do what he was doing? probably not, we would metamorphose into a bloody New Romantic. Morrissey had earned his spurs, locked away in his Dickensian loft with nothing but Speranza's wild child for a buddy, the TV thwarting him manically, escaping only to the brooding, gloomy, shattered corners of Whalley Range, sitting in foggy rooms waiting for a train carrying Burton's mythical menage a trois whilst the shaggy Taffy lies waiting in the wings. That's what moulded him, that's what gave him the earnest longing for the killing of the British Prime Minister and not to go to tea at number ten to hobnob with the mandarins. The Smiths' apostles became all the more enamoured, many to freaky levels but the band appeared stable, content, settled. There were four at this point, there was always going to be Morrissey and Marr but for now there was also Rourke and Joyce, though most print including this article concentrated on Morrissey, that's how The Smiths desired it. But how long could this last? I mean this is showbiz, nothing ever remains harmonious does it?
Following the release of Meat is Murder (1985), the band embarked on a lengthy tour of the UK and the US, on their return they began working on their third album proper but a legal dispute with Rough Trade Records led to a delay in its release. Somewhere in the midst of all this, the inevitable cracks began to appear, The Smiths were susceptible to the smaller picture after all. Perhaps Morrissey had set them up for it, for a great fall I mean, he set such high standards in the us against them battle, standards that were impossible to live up to. It doesn't take long for a one time devoted disciple that becomes disillusioned to turn into the most caustic of critics, attacking what they once honoured. The simplest of things becomes fine fodder, such as Morrissey's moccasins providing two enormous targets after his meat is murder shenanigans. The third album, The Queen Is Dead was eventually released in June 1986, it was preceded by the single Bigmouth Strikes Again, on which Morrissey sang of having no right to take his place with the human race. To the uninitiated, it might have appeared that the wheels were coming off, but this was Morrissey, it was par for the course, he would survive it. The Queen Is Dead is often cited as their masterpiece, the critics immediately loved it, captured by the self assurance of The Smiths telling them that everything was going to be just fine, they were still around.
On the Queen Is Dead record, Morrissey appeared to be accepting that many of the criticism levelled at him during the previous months, though perhaps not justified was okay and he accepted them, it wasn't the end of the world, The Smiths were still producing music of the finest calibre and he wasn't so serious as everybody accused. It was good while the album lasted but alas all was far from well, the wheels were indeed coming off. Marr was beginning to feel the strain of relentless touring and recording, worse still it was revealed that Rourke had been fired from the band in early 1986 because of his use of heroin, although reinstated after a couple of weeks, his replacement Craig Gannon remained in the band as rhythm guitarist for the subsequent tour and features on the singles Panic and Ask. We had seen it all before with so many bands, we all drew a breath, here we go or rather here we don't. They didn't disappoint, signing for major label EMI in early 1987, branded as racists, sell-outs and even rockers, it appeared the band were spiralling out of control. However, happily they weren't, they were as fine as they ever were, albeit as fine as The Smiths get. Or so they were leading us to believe, giving out a united front, though valid suspicions remained. Their second compilation album The World Won't Listen was released in February 1987 by Rough Trade Records, gathering singles, B-sides and unreleased songs from 1985 to 1986.
The apostles, desperate for confirmation that The Smiths were still with them lapped it up but the critics viewed it as unnecessary, a final cash in by Rough Trade Records before their precious commodities shoved off. The apostles didn't see it that way, even demanding that Rough Trade domestically release another compilation Louder than Bombs that had been made for the American market, they were insatiable, they wanted as much as they could possibly lay their hands on. But all was far from rosy, suspicions were verified when Marr left the band in June 1987 and from what we thought we knew about these fellows, there would be no going back, there would be no emotional reunion of hugs and kisses, it was over, Smithmania had bitten the dust. The general statement issued was that Morrissey had become sick and tired of Marr's dalliances with other bands, while Marr was sick and tired of Morrissey's musical inflexibilities. Battle lines were drawn, the ice age cometh. There was, however, a kick from the grave with their fourth album; Strangeways, Here We Come and what a kick it was, both Marr and Morrissey cite it as their masterpiece. I'm not so sure, maybe that affirmation is to titillate the apostles with the horrific dangling carrot that the best was still to come before they walked away on their own terms, the Smithsonian way. I reckon they walked away knowing it was over anyway, the album has synths, frilly guitar riffs and they had produced a video which I hear features Morrissey clones - ghastly and not very Smiths.